One of the consequences of the democratization of higher education in the United States is the explosion of institutions that have arisen to meet mass demand, and the stratification of those institutions based on the populations they serve. The Ivy League, the “public ivy” flagship state universities, and a cadre of elite small private liberal arts colleges are the basis for the institutionalized myths that inform public perception of what colleges or universities are, even though these schools account for an ever-shrinking fraction of American higher education experiences. The growth in schools serving primarily “nontraditional” students – that is, anything except in-person residential undergraduate liberal arts for at-least-middle-class white eighteen-year-olds with certain test scores coming directly from a college-preparatory high school program – has created a legitimacy paradox within the higher education sector. Democratization has created a need for different types of institutions, but the quest for legitimacy within the higher education sector drives isomorphic change and fuels mission creep, pulling schools away from their original nontraditional constituencies. In order to effectively serve nontraditional students, schools must explore other sectors outside of higher education where there is potential for creating programmatic and/or institutional legitimacy, including the business sector, specific professional sectors, and social/cultural milieu. The intentional development of multiliminality, where institutions draw legitimacy from multiple overlapping environmental sectors simultaneously, offers one response which helps anchor colleges and universities in their missions and helps maintain the access promised by the democratization of higher education.
Storrs, E. (2016), "Mapping Institutional Legitimacy in Meeting of Expanding Demand for Education", Paradoxes of the Democratization of Higher Education (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 22), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 193-212. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0196-115220160000022007Download as .RIS
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